Monday, December 24, 2012

Welcome to the inn

Luke 2:1-20

During our midweek worship gatherings on Wednesday evening, the message was a series of sketches that told a story about an innkeeper and his wife and their reaction to baby Jesus.

I want to preface the telling of the story with the recognition that there has long been an error in translating a word in Luke’s Gospel. We read in most Bibles that Jesus was “laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the ‘inn’”. The Greek word here is kataluma, which usually means “guest room,” not “inn”. Many homes in biblical times had a guest room. The same word, kataluma, is translated as “upper room” where the last supper was held, and where the disciples were hiding after the crucifixion.

We who are unfamiliar with ancient houses assume that the animals were kept in a separate place, not in the house, which leads us to have the baby born in a barn, or a cave. In ancient – and not so ancient – times, animals were brought into the shelter of the house to keep them safe, and in the winter the animals also helped to keep the house warmer. The animals were in a separate part of the house, but within the walls of the house. A manger held food for the animals while they were inside.

It’s likely, therefore, that a family made a place available for the baby to be born, perhaps in the guest room, and then the baby was laid in the manger, where he would be safe, off the floor, and in comfortable, clean hay. On my office door is a picture of a Lego house which demonstrates the probable layout of the house where Jesus was born. [ Date: December 23, 2012]

The image of the stable is dear to our hearts, however, and modern stories still highlight the humility of the stable as a location for Jesus’ birth. The story, “If I were the Innkeeper,” [ ] continues the tradition, but also applies to us, the keepers of our own homes.

An Innkeeper and his wife had conversations about the wisdom of telling Joseph and Mary that there was no room in their place. The Innkeeper walked down to the stable where they were staying. He met the baby Jesus, and had a life-changing moment. He returned home, and over the next few days, made preparations for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to move into the inn.

The Innkeeper’s Wife wasn’t so happy with his decision. A number of the guests heard about his plan to move the “stable family” into the inn and they checked out. The Wife was concerned about the lost income. She was even more concerned about giving the best suite in the inn to the couple – for free! To their surprise, they had an influx of new guests, who were kinder, quieter, and more welcome. The maids were no longer complaining, and doing a better job when they cleaned each room. Some people in town made plans to come and see the baby for themselves. Even the wife stopped her whining and worrying about money. Everyone in the story who came into contact with Jesus was changed.

The story raises the question for us: What would we do if we were the innkeeper in Bethlehem? I’m sure that today, if we knew that Jesus was coming, we’d offer to sleep on the sofa to make sure Mary and Joseph had the best bed in the house. We’d offer the best meals, and rock the baby to sleep so Mary could rest. We would never turn Mary and Joseph away.

But, the Innkeeper and his Wife did not know when they sent them away that the baby was the Messiah. They did not know that the baby was the Savior sent by God. They did not know that this baby was going to change the world forever. They just knew that the couple was a scroungy-looking pair, who didn’t have the sense to stay home when the wife was so close to delivering a baby.

I’d like to believe if a young couple came knocking on my door asking for a place to stay that I would welcome them in. I’d like to believe it, but our current culture has taught us to be careful. Our first reaction might be: sure, come on in. But immediately after that, we begin to think: What might they steal? How badly do they stink? What kind of a mess will they make? Why don’t they go to the hospital, or to the Path, or to the Mission? Why have they come to my house?

Even so, I’d like to believe that I would open my doors and welcome them inside. I’d like to believe that I would make them as comfortable as I could in my home. I’d like to believe that I would see Jesus in them and offer them my best, just the way I would offer my best if I knew for certain that they really were Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.

I’d like to believe that you would do that too.